Former Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss likes to portray himself as a victim. It may have been one of his players that was murdered. It may have been another one of his players who committed the murder. And Bliss might have been caught on tape lying that the murdered player was a drug dealer in an attempt to save himself from punishment from the NCAA.
Despite all of this — a murder, a man confessing to the crime, a whistleblower coach being blackballed from the college ranks — the only victim in this whole entire story is Dave Bliss.
Disgraced is a new documentary from Pat Kondelis that premieres on Showtime on Friday. Kondelis attempts to get to the bottom of the murder of that Baylor player, Patrick Dennehy, at the hands of his roommate and teammate Carlton Dotson in June 2003. But while that is the hook of the documentary, the essence of the documentary ends up partly being the continuing pleas of victimhood expressed by Dave Bliss coupled with what Kondelis portrays as a cover up to protect the reputation of Baylor University.
The facts are this: Dennehy and Dotson were players for Dave Bliss at Baylor in 2003. Dennehy and Dotson feared that another player, Harvey Thomas, was going to kill them. They went to coaches, and then they bought guns for protection. Dotson killed Dennehy and eventually confesses. Then it was discovered that Dennehy’s tuition was being paid by Bliss which brought in the NCAA. Dotson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison. Bliss invented the lie that Dennehy paid his tuition by dealing drugs.
Kondelis establishes all of this through extensive research and interviews with police. He interviews the family of both players. He interviews teammates, roommates and girlfriends. The police and a former attorney of Dotson speak on the record as does Abar Rouse, the assistant coach who taped Bliss creating the lies about Dennehy and then trying to get other coaches and players to repeat those lies to police. He interviews Danny Robbins, one of the investigative reporters who wrote extensively on the story at the time, and Kondelis also goes back and talks to people who investigated Bliss during his time as head coach at SMU in the 1980s.
Kondelis attempted to talk to officials at Baylor, who refused. He attempted to talk to Dotson’s attorneys at the time a plea deal was reached, and they refused. He also attempted to talk to Dotson, and he too refused to be interviewed.
But it’s Bliss and John Segrest, the former district attorney of McLennan County, who make the most damning statements. Segrest makes clear he never agreed to the plea deal that was offered by Dotson’s attorneys and approved by the judge. Segrest states that Dotson was ill-served by his attorneys, and he further states that those attorneys, along with the judge (all being Baylor graduates) were more concerned with protecting the reputation of Baylor than they were with seeing that justice was done. And it is later revealed that Abel Reyna, one of Dotson’s attorneys, has been the McLennan County DA during the Baylor football sexual assault scandals of the past several years.
The best thing that Kondelis does, however, is aim the camera at Bliss and let Bliss talk. And Bliss loves making conversation. Bliss, now the head coach at Southwestern Christian University in Oklahoma City, repeats the allegation that that Dennehy was a drug dealer. He states, again, that everybody knew this, including the police department. The only problem is there is absolutely no evidence of that (the police investigators state that there was never any evidence of Dennehy dealing drugs). But Bliss doesn’t care. He repeats the lie while pleading to all that he is the one true victim.
It is his reputation that has been destroyed, after all. He lost ten years of his coaching career. He didn’t do anything wrong. If it wasn’t for one of his players being murdered by another player, Dave Bliss would have never lost his job at Baylor (he resigned in 2003). And if it wasn’t for one of his coaches taping his conversations, Bliss would have never been outed as a liar willing to defame one of his dead players in order to keep his job.
Disgraced is a well-made, engrossing and maddening film. Kondelis is never able to present a motive for the killing for Dennehy because of Dotson’s failure to cooperate, and because there was never a trial, a motive could never be presented or fleshed out. It’s maddening because of the sense that the people at Baylor were more concerned with protecting the school than with exposing a coach who willingly violated NCAA rules. It’s angering because the one guy who did something right, Abar Rouse, is now a teacher for prisoners instead of coaching because he has been blackballed by the coaching fraternity.
But most of all, there’s Dave Bliss. Disgraced paints Bliss as an evil, unrepentant man more bothered by being caught about lying about his one of his former players than he is by the fact that that player was murdered by a teammate.
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